Another Fantastic Year

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Q: “What do you do if  you find the writing isn’t working?

A’s:

  • “Delete.”
  • “Cry.”
  • “Cider.”

And so went the 8th Annual Bold Strokes Book festival in Nottingham. There were lots of laughs, great questions, and the kind of atmosphere you want in a festival.

We had about eighty people throughout the weekend, all told, and it was so great to see old friends, to make some new ones, and to come together over words and books.

We’ll be putting lots of photos up of the event as they arrive from various people, but there are some up now if you want to start perusing. I hope you followed along on Twitter, too. If you want to catch up, check out #BSBUK to see what we got up to.

That means we’ve already started planning for the 9th Annual Bold Strokes Event. Know what that means? You’re in for a treat. LOADS of authors from America and beyond will be joining us next year, but make note of the date: May 5th-6th at Waterstones, Nottingham. (Not June!) We’re so excited to be hosting our fellow authors, and what makes it even more exciting? Our fearless leader, Radclyffe, will be here too!

We’ll release details as they come through. In the meantime, check out our Other Events page for events some of our authors will be attending throughout the rest of the year. We’d love to see you there.

Thanks for another great year. We couldn’t do it without reader support and author attendance, and we’re so lucky to have this event where we can come together in a safe space to support one another. Remember you can follow the authors on their own pages, sign up to our mailing list, and check us out on FB.

Thanks again, everyone. It’s always a pleasure.

Victoria 

Deeper Connections by Sandy Lowe

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In the modern digital age, there is a case to be made for using the Internet make our lives easier. Want a recipe? A book? An Uber at 3am? The Internet is happy to provide (and to profit). Less obvious, but just as life changing is the way cyberspace has transformed the social realm. We make friends, colleagues, lovers and even enemies online, opening ourselves up to a social network that transcends time and place.  For LGBTQ people this network can be life changing: increasing avenues for acceptance, support, resources and even as a vehicle for finding just the right happily ever after.

Social media has made it so that everything we share online can be viewed by friends, friends of friends, and often even strangers we’d never actually consider friends. Inevitably, this leads to impression management, curating just the right collection of filter-hazed photos, anecdotes, witty retorts and hashtags to convince others that our life, and by extension, ourselves, are just a little brighter, a little happier, a little better than reality.

This very fakeness is social media’s fatal flaw. How do you really get to know someone when you only see the highlights? How do you experience the joy of an unexpected connection when filters and algorhythms show you only those who are just like you? And what are you to do when you’re moving house in the middle of August and could really use some help getting the damn couch up the stairs?

If most of your friends are online, I feel your pain. Making friends as an adult is awkward. Gone are the days that sharing your peanut butter Wonder Bread sandwich guaranteed you a BFF. Schedules are busy and work/life balance has given way to checking your work email while sitting on the loo (don’t judge, we all do it). That’s why LGBTQ friendly events, centered around a shared interest like reading and writing can be just the place to connect with real people, in real time. You have a built-in topic of conversation, a preplanned schedule of events and a room full of reluctant introverts just looking for an excuse to say hi It’s just like Wonder Bread only better.

The Internet is great for bringing together like-minded people with similar interests, but it’s the face-to-face connection, that creates the kind of friends that help you bury bodies. And honestly, couldn’t we all use a friend or two like that? Come to the Bold Strokes Books UK Festival and meet the friend you’ll need on moving day.

 

 

 

Rescuing the Damsel by Robyn Nyx

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“People sleep peacably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” George Orwell 

Right now, it seems that the rough men are doing violence on behalf of the wrong people. I’ve been asked to write four hundred words on the importance of safe places for LGBTQ people. I have immense trouble telling a story succinctly, so this is quite an ask. The marvellous authors that have already gone before me have eloquently delved into the political ramifications of what’s currently being perpetrated against us as a community so I’m not going to reiterate their arguments (again, impossible for me to do so in four hundred words, but catch me this weekend, and we can go to town on these issues).

As an avid reader, my safe space has often been between the soft yet crisp, wonderfully-scented pages of the beautiful works of art we know as books. I have always taken enormous pleasure in appreciating the wonder that is a physical book, but they are so much more than their cleverly-designed cover or smooth black on white pages. Its importance can transcend anything the author ever envisaged when they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. The characters can come alive and take on their own direction in unimaginable ways, becoming of utmost importance to their readers—becoming role models. Characters become people whom we seek to emulate.

I’ve always wanted to be the archetypal hero, the rescuer of the damsel in distress, and the rough, rugged conqueror of all things evil who gets the girl. In my youth, those things were the reserve of boys and men. Indeed, it wasn’t until my twenties when I discovered the darkly dreaming world of LesFic, where our hero was the rough and ready female detective, and it was the dangerously sexy female bounty hunter who got the girl. I was in hog heaven. The manuscript I’d been working on since I was seventeen suddenly didn’t seem so aimless. Could I be a LesFic author one day? The answer was yes, though it would take two decades to finally sign on the dotted line of the elusive and much sought after traditional publishing contract (and a completely different manuscript).

My safe space today is very much the same as it was when I was a little baby-dyke. I love to read about Furies, billionaire scientists, and Death as a surfer chick (all of which are conveniently available in my lady’s Afterlife Inc trilogy (Brey Willows). Not only that, but I now get to create the sexy heroes and their worlds too. I’m lucky enough that the biggest LGBTQ publisher on the planet contracts me to inhabit those arenas for months on end and invent escapist safe spaces for other LGBTQ people. And then, better yet, Bold Strokes Books organise this fabulous weekend for authors and readers alike to connect in real time in a way so much more fulfilling than social media (from both sides of the stage); to discuss their favourite characters, books, and how they were written; and most of all to celebrate and be safe amongst the different.

I’m looking forward to enjoying a safe space I could never have envisioned in my youth, and I can’t bloody wait to meet you all!

Robyn Nyx will be at the Bold Strokes Book Festival in Nottingham, and will be reading from her latest novel, Escape in Time.

 

Bad Ass Women by Brey Willows

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My mom is a lesbian. A proud, strong, femme who wore heels and had long nails and never changed who she was for anyone. She taught me to stand tall and not let society dictate what you ‘should’ look like.  She also had me really young, but instead of leaving me with sitters, she took me everywhere; softball games, rugby games, huge parties. These places were full of lesbians who watched out for me and became an amazing extended family. One taught me to play softball, one taught me how to change a tire and check my oil. One taught me how to drive a stick shift (and never once screamed in panic). One taught me how to play a wicked game of pool. One taught me how to ride a motorcycle. They all taught me the meaning of support and connection.

Strong, kick-ass women in every field of life have surrounded me since the time I was born. (I know, right? How insanely lucky was I?)

That’s what led me to write the Afterlife, Inc trilogy. Yeah, I wanted to play with the concept of religion vs non-religion. I love fantasy, and I wanted to write what I love to read. But beyond the theme, I wanted to populate my books with bad-ass women who know what they want and work their asses off to get it. I wanted lesbians who aren’t overly dysfunctional, (at least a little is needed to have an interesting novel), who don’t have to die at the end of the book. I wanted happy-ever-afters along with women who don’t have to give up who they are to get them.

Personally, that’s why I write lesbian fiction. Not just fiction, not just fantasy. I identify as a lesbian writer because I write fiction about and for lesbians, from a lesbian who has lived in the ‘community’ (whatever that word has come to mean) all my life. That ID is important to me; we’re not side-lines. We’re not secondary characters who may or may not make it to the next book or season. We’re not stereotypes or jokes. I firmly believe we still need the LGBTQ label on our books. Because we need to see the bad-ass, interesting, unusual, queer people in our literature. People who show us we’re not alone, that we, too, can be just as bad-assery as any character in a mainstream novel, and that we, too, can ride off into the sunset with the girl of our dreams. If you want some bad ass women in books other than mine, check out Robyn Nyx’s stuff. Bad ass indeed. 

Events like the Bold Strokes Book Festival in June are a perfect way to come together, to have fun, and to surround yourself with a whole batch of other bad-ass people.

See you there.

Brey Willows will be at the Bold Strokes Book Festival, and will be reading from her first book, Fury’s Bridge.

Representation Always Matters by Lesley Davis

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I don’t read straight fiction now. I used to, back when there wasn’t anything else to read and no such thing as the internet to peruse to find a ton of queer fanfiction just waiting to be devoured. (We’re talking a few decades ago, okay, maybe more than a few to be honest!) It was a lonely read; no one was like me amid the pages so I couldn’t identify with the characters, as much as I’d have liked to. As a lesbian desperate to read about a world where I fit in, I searched for my kind of books, ones written about women who were gay just like me. They were rare finds, hidden away on back shelves, or in bookshops that kept them in the basement as if they were something forbidden and not allowed to see the light of day.

At first I felt like I was inundated by ‘straight woman meets sweet lesbian next door and leaves her husband for her’ tales, which were so not my thing. So I kept on searching and found Chris Anne Wolfe’s marvelous fantasy novels which were much more to my taste. And I can’t tell you how much I rejoiced on finding a Karin Kallmaker story that mentioned “Star Wars” in it…now that was totally me! Because as much as it’s important to find representation for sexuality, it also helps if it’s ‘age’ related too. How the young gay teens searching for their story in print coped I’ll never know. As the years rolled by more books came out and there were more stories for me to identify with. And by then, I’d started writing my own because, if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, write it yourself. Maybe you’ll find there are like-minded people out there who will come to read it because they see themselves in the worlds you write of. The representation for you personally is out there. Keep reading, there is a place for all of us in this world and you can be whoever or whatever you want to be in it.

I needed to find that representation then and I firmly believe we need it now. With the tide turning from our finally gaining some kind of acceptance in the world to us once again being discriminated against, now more than ever we need to have our books prominently displaying us front and centre as the queer heroines/heroes of our own lives – out and proud as always.

“Representation Matters” is a very recognisable battle cry all over social media, calling out to those intent on keeping gay characters in the back ground of their shows or buried six feet under. As writers we get to shape the worlds we write about in our own image. And I’m not talking just about looks here, but identity and sexuality. Because, speaking from my own experience, when I get up in a morning it’s not a straight white male whose face I see reflected back in the mirror! So why should I only get told that one version of a story when it comes to fictional works?

Keep reading! And I hope to see you all in Nottingham this June! Safe travels to the venue.

Lesley Davis will be at the Bold Strokes Book Festival, reading from her latest novel, Raging at the Stars.

 

 

 

Write Here, Write Queer

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I have a friend who infuriates me. We spend far too much of our time arguing; the man votes Conservative, quite likes Theresa May, thinks Jeremy Corbyn should probably wear a tie. The morning of Brexit we very nearly never spoke again. We’ve remonstrated at length; I don’t understand how, as a gay man, he can support many of these things, but this post isn’t about how wrong he is (though he’s really, really wrong – just sayin’) but about one of the other things we argue about quite often.

That thing is the word queer.

I love the word. I call myself a queer writer; my first big sale was in Queer’s Destroy Fiction and I thought that was brilliant. I am not old enough to remember the battle cry of ‘Not gay as in happy, but queer as in f**k you’ but it’s recurrence in the era of Trump I find vivid and powerful.

His argument against my use of the word is twofold.

The first is that you cannot reclaim words just because you decide to, and as someone who had the word used against him as an epithet as a teenager, he can’t stand the use of the it. This is half right and half wrong; I studied language so I can concertedly say you can reclaim words (language is arguably a constant cycle of claiming and reclaimed, defining and redefining) but as to the second point, I can fully understand why someone would not want to claim that word. Reclamation is always a personal choice, and I find no fault with that.

The second is that, in a world in which we want to be treated equal, where we’ve fought for gay people to be considered ‘normal’, why would you choose a word that sets you apart?

It’s normally about ten minutes after this that we stop speaking for a while.

Being gay does not make me special; when I fight for equality I don’t want to be better than someone else, but that doesn’t mean I am necessarily the same. When I had to break away from my family and my upbringing in order to be true to the self I’d decided was who I was, it came with the right to define my life however I wanted. If that becomes marry a partner, get a house, adopt a kid, get a dog—you know, all the “normal” stuff that’s implied in that word—then that’s great, but if I decide my life is going to have a different shape that’s fine too. Why do I like the word queer? Why do I not want to just keep quiet and be considered normal? Because there are people all around the world not being given that luxury. There are gay people being put in death camps, being thrown off buildings; there are gay people whose freedoms are constantly threatened by our US government, where the equalities they have earned could vanish. That phrase, ‘not gay as in happy but queer as in f**k you’, resonates because it reminds me that you shouldn’t be silent just to fit in.

There are a million way we can try and further that cause, but the only way I’ve known is to write. I write queer characters, queer stories. I celebrate that this blog is leading up to an event of queer writing, attended by people who read queer books. I celebrate that we can sit together in the middle of a city and enjoy that together; I hope that eventually, that can be the case for everywhere in the world. Maybe then I’ll concede his point, and stop arguing with him, and relinquish the word queer. Until then… well, I guess there’s gonna be a few more awkward silences.

Matt Bright will be at the Bold Strokes Book Festival, reading from his story in the anthology Men in Love.

A Blank Page by Amy Dunne

As a writer, staring at a bank page can incite a myriad of emotions such as apprehension, excitement, frustration, elation, determination, stress, and hope. It can signify the beginning of something new. A fresh start. Perhaps a new story, characters, and maybe even the opportunity to try experimenting with writing a new genre. But it can also be daunting, especially when a writer’s old familiar foes, self-doubt and fear of failure, take up residence and lurk in the background, adding fuel to the smouldering insecurities that are always simmering away just beneath the calm exterior.

Life, I’ve discovered in recent weeks, works in pretty much the same way. Make big and small decisions or choose not to, both ultimately result in having to deal with consequences. Change can be scary. Change can be positive. It can change your life.

For the past year, I’ve been struggling with poor health and it has taken its toll on my loved ones and myself. For the most part, I lost all interest and the inclination to pursue the activities that I love and gain both pleasure and escapism from, such as writing, photography, films, theatre, listening to music, and reading. In a time when there is so much cruelty, evil, hatred, and sadness in the world, it’s easy to sink down into dark despair and feel utterly helpless. I truly believe it’s not a weakness to admit when we’re afraid or upset.

During this week, especially, I’ve felt both acutely.

But here’s the thing, I refuse to let those horrific events, malicious intentions of others, difficult and challenging consequences, and my own personal insecurities stop me from being positive and looking for the good in the world. Because there is good out there, a lot of it, and it deserves to be recognised and shared. I believe with every fibre of my being that there is more good in the world than bad. The events of Monday in Manchester were horrific and evil. The solidarity, empathy, and love that people have shown in the aftermath is beyond incredible. It sends a strong message. We’re diverse and from different walks of life, but we respect one another and will always stand together as a formidable opponent, united and strong.

I’ve not always been so positive and it isn’t always easy to keep it up. Even as little as three months ago, my mindset was shrouded with depression and anxiety which created a perpetual self-fulfilling cycle of negativity. When and why did I make a conscious effort to change?

Two months ago. My grandad, who is the nicest most gentle and caring man you could ever hope to meet, had a stroke. For a little while, we weren’t sure he was going to recover. It was scary and heartbreaking, but against all odds he did recover and very quickly. His steely determination and unwavering positive outlook on life meant he recovered in an amazingly short period of time. He stunned all of the healthcare professionals and us as a family. My grandma showed strength, independence, and a deep rooted faith throughout. Their love prevailed and our whole family learnt a valuable lesson…life is precious and we should make the most of every day.

It changed everything for me.

Every day now feels like a new blank page just waiting for me to write upon, bursting with endless possibilities and potential. I refuse to take the people I love for granted. I feel blessed every morning when I wake. I’ve noticed the beauty of spring in a new and profound way. It’s almost like I never had the time to notice it previous years. The vibrant colours and gorgeous scents are a delight. I cherish the moments spent with my family and friends and tell them passionately and repeatedly how much they mean to me. I hug them that bit tighter, for that bit longer. I’ve laughed more in the last few weeks that I did throughout the whole of 2016. I’ve learnt that making other people laugh is one of my most favourite things. If I see the opportunity to help someone or improve their day even with something as simple as a smile or just a kind word, I don’t hesitate to do it. I get up extra early in the morning to take our dog for a long walk while it’s quiet and cool. It gives me time to think and reflect about what I want to get out of the day ahead. I try to appreciate and embrace as many positive things as possible. I’ve started my photography again, tried my hand at painting (and failed miserably but found it very therapeutic), and have even started learning to play the ukulele.

Why? Because life is short…just like me. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, but today is the here and now, and there’s nothing stopping you from chasing your dreams and enjoying every single second.

And why not?

It would be easy to lock ourselves away inside our homes and not dare to venture out, but that’s what those with evil intentions are hoping we’ll do. I refuse to let them have that power, to dictate or affect my life or decisions. My family, friends, and loved ones look forward to the Bold Strokes Book event every single year and they come en mass to support me and the other awesome BSB authors. As a family, we live locally and we all love Nottingham and are proud to be apart of the community. It’s a stunning city, with a rich history, whose community is vibrant, beautifully diverse, and above all else, friendly. I’m so grateful and proud to work in Nottingham at the Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall, with fabulous colleagues, and it feels like my second home.

I first attended the BSB event as an avid reader and had an amazing time. But I nearly didn’t go. I was so anxious I almost bottled it at the last minute and if it wasn’t for my amazing wife insisting, I may never have ended up where I am now. The event and authors I spoke to ignited my passion for writing and I knew then and there that I wanted to be a part of something special. After a few knock-backs I finished my first manuscript and then with a lot of hard work and dedication, I was welcomed into the BSB family. I now have had three novels published.

It was this amazing event that sparked my desire to become a writer of LGBTQ fiction. It was also at this event that I made lifelong friends and got the opportunity to talk with like minded people who share similar interests. (I also sang my first karaoke song after one of the events…but the less that’s said about that the better). Everyone is welcome. It’s full of fun, laughter, prizes, new friendships, and amazing memories.

I’m really looking forward to next weekend and I truly hope that you are too. If it’s your first time joining us, or you’re coming alone, please come and speak to me and I’ll happily show you around and introduce you to everyone. And maybe, this might be the start of your own brand spanking new blank page and the possibilities are endless.

Amy Dunne will be at the Bold Strokes Book Festival, reading from her novel Renegade.